Last week, Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School, a charter authorized by Alum Rock School District, presented its rationale for opening a second middle school at a public hearing for the county Board of Education. The school’s founder, John Glover, filed a petition with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to begin instruction in the 2014-15 school year. The Alum Rock board denied the original charter school petition July 2 by a 4-1 vote.
From what I can tell, Alum Rock trustees denied the petition because Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School does not have enough data to demonstrate a record of success. Alpha’s 2013 Academic Performance Index (API) was 828—a very good score—but this is the only year of data. A major source of concern for Alum Rock officials and the county is that the state could suspend API scores for the next two years, as new common core assessments will be put in place by spring 2014.
Currently, there are three charter middle schools in Alum Rock’s district: KIPP Heartwood (API of 922); Downtown College Prep (API of 787); and ACE (API of 730). There are also two-parent choice middle schools that were created by Alum Rock: Renaissance I (API of 852) and Renaissance II (API of 844). There are five other traditional public middle schools in the district, with an average API of 742.
Charter schools and charter management organizations (CMO) have used API data to persuade elected members of the county Board of Education to authorize new charter schools if petitions meet all state criteria. Our Board has authorized more charter schools—40-plus approved to open by 2017—than any county in the state.
All of Alum Rock middle schools’ principals and deans were in attendance at last week’s meeting, and they spoke at the public hearing along with Dr. Tom Green, chief transformational officer. They each gave an impassioned plea for the county to deny the petition—not because they believe Alpha is not an exceptional learning institution; they say more time is needed to improve results for students at the already established schools.
Each advocate for keeping the current middle schools in Alum Rock were passionate and articulate. Each presented their individual case with concern for what would happen if 450 additional Alum Rock middle students move by choice to an Alpha 2 in 2014-15.
Meanwhile, dozens of parents and students advocated for a new Alpha school. Legal counsel for Alpha stated that the county must adhere to the charter school law when voting to approve or deny an appeal. If the charter school meets all requisite state criteria, on appeal the Board “shall” approve, the attorney said.
It does seem that Alpha will meet all statutory criteria: sound education programs, the proper number of signatures, etc. But does the district need another charter middle school?
Over time, I believe the competition of high quality charter schools and the choices created by Renaissance I and II will create a pathway to success for all middle school students in the Alum Rock district. Should we allow more time for transformational change or approve another school? I would appreciate your opinion.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.